Album: Phoenix Aflame
Review By: Todd Naevestad
Most metal fans, I believe, recognize that it is the new bands that continue to push our favorite genes and subgenres into new and interesting territory. The young bloods, hungry and passionate, are the ones who will make big changes going forward. So you can imagine my intrigue when I began listening to Insatia. With only one album prior and a fair bit of veteran guidance from some well known names like Fabio D’Amore and Ivan Moni Bidin, they have a great opportunity here with Phoenix Aflame to establish their reputation going forward.
First and foremost, I was blown away by lead singer Zoë Federoff’s performance. Many times female leads lean towards a pseudo-opera style of singing. Federoff manages a similar high-pitched, sweeping style while making it very much her own. She creates an almost hypnotic cadence with the lyrics, both because of her aforementioned style, and the poetic nature of the writing. Her voice alone is iconic on the album and there is no mistaking her sound when the shuffle pulls her up.
Federoff’s voice has an interesting, almost dissident, partnership with the instruments. A fair portion of the tracks are heavier than you might expect, considering the vocalist; some dip into hardcore and death metal territories. The style mixing creates a unique sound that makes each track a surprise. And none of this is to say that the album is dark. A few tracks are downright joyful, both in their content and to listen to. Insatia doesn’t seem to be afraid to experiment with their style or with the audio; there are a few audio additions to songs that add a touch of spice to already interesting tracks.
That said, you can still see their inexperience. While the core of the album is good, you can see a lot of the radial elements can use some refining. I feel the need to comment on the guitar work, firstly. It’s…average. It seems like a mean thing to say, but the truth of it is that the guitar work in most songs is nothing memorable. It more serves as a background rhythm piece more akin to the drums than what you would expect from a metal guitar. Part of this may just be that the genre is often so focused on guitar work that when it’s absent, it’s noticeable. A similar critique can be made for other instruments. While the orchestra backing is good, it has the same feeling in each song, like they didn’t know how best to use them. When you really start scrutinizing each track individually you start to see that Federoff’s vocals do most of the heavy lifting while the other musical elements struggle to match her.
You also might notice that, while the diversity of tracks and styles can be fun, it comes across as disjointed. There is no real main theme with the album, one strong central idea that ties the whole piece together. Individually, the tracks are good, but the album is unfocused, trying a number of ideas but never really shining with any one of them. A strong throughline would have gone a long way to make the whole work memorable.
Returning to Zoë and specifically the lyrics, they come across as a bit shallow. While I enjoy the positive messages and the passion in them, they don’t tend to venture beyond run-of-the-mill expressions or obtusely creative for the sake of being different. I like weird metaphors as much as the next guy, but I figure I should be able to have a vague concept of what you’re trying to tell me through it. For the life of me, I still don’t know what a “Memory of a Sapphire” is.
I enjoyed Phoenix Aflame and I’m very excited to see where Insatia continues on with their musical journey. Zoë Federoff’s voice is amazing and makes the album feel unique to them. There are certainly issues, places where they can grow significantly and refine their talents. If you don’t mind the garage band sound, you’ll find a lot you love from this album. If you’re used to the big name professionals, it may be a touch to rough for your tastes. Insatia have great potential and I can see them reaching serious stardom in later years.
Rating: 3 out of 5
Recomended Bands: Letters From the Fire, Epica, Delain